Parts of the ferry Machigonne II have been cordoned off to help protect the crew from possible contact with anyone infected with the coronavirus. Casco Bay Lines announced Thursday that it will reduce the number of trips between Portland and the islands beginning Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Casco Bay Lines said Thursday that because of the coronavirus it will reduce the number of daily trips it makes between Portland and the Casco Bay island communities it serves.

The temporary reduction in service will take effect Saturday, according to an announcement posted on the Casco Bay Island Transit District’s website.

Under the revised schedule, passengers and vehicles will still be able to access ferry service during the morning and afternoon peak ridership times, but there will be fewer trips made during the day. Many residents of the islands rely on the service to reach their jobs on the mainland.

Peaks Island resident Christopher Moor said he was practicing social distancing by riding on the deck of the ferry Machigonne II on Thursday afternoon. Casco Bay Lines announced a reduction in the number of trips between Portland and the islands. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“This decision, while not taken lightly, was driven by CBITD’s desire to continue to protect the health and safety of our employees, riders, islands, and our communities while planning for continuity of operations,” the statement said. “Reducing the level of service will allow CBITD to minimize COVID-19 exposure for as many of our crew members and shoreside staff as possible, which is critical as we seek to do our part in flattening the curve of community spread.”

During the winter months, the  ferry service provides transportation from the mainland to Peaks Island, Little and Great Diamond islands, Diamond Cove, Long Island, Chebeague Island and Cliff Island.

Under the new schedule, one crew will be assigned to transport passengers from Peaks Island to the mainland and back eight times each day, compared to the 15 daily trips that the car ferry now makes. In another change, only one crew will work for a two-week period in an effort to preserve the availability of non-active crew members to sustain service should anyone test positive for COVID-19.

In its statement, ferry service management warned that since the COVID-19 pandemic is evolving rapidly, customers should be prepared for more changes and reductions in service. In the meantime, passengers are being encouraged to use the ferry service for essential travel only.

“Suspension of all service would occur only in the event there is insufficient crew available to meet required Coast Guard regulations,” Casco Bay Lines said.

Casco Bay Lines is one of the oldest ferry systems in the country. Nearly 150 years ago, the ferry system began transporting summer visitors to cottages and luxurious hotels on the islands of Casco Bay.

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